It is time for Barack Obama to stop playing politics and start being a commander-in-chief. America faces some tough sledding in Iraq. ISIS will not just capture a little territory and then be satisfied, nor are they going to give in to what they see as idle threats from a president who thinks wars can be won by talking. Further, ISIS will not be defeated by Iraqi troops. Iraqi troops remind me of the South Vietnamese troops in that long ago war. The minute things get hot, they got gone. Nor will ISIS leaders be charmed, frightened, or intimidated by the on-going bluster of America’s golfer-in-chief. The only way to get rid of ISIS is to destroy the organization and everyone in it from the ground up and the top down—simultaneously. Every gardener knows something Obama has yet to learn: you cannot just spray a little poison on weeds, you have to rip them up by the roots and burn them or they will just keep coming back. It is the same with ISIS.
The president cannot eliminate this threat to western civilization using nothing but surgical airstrikes. But therein is the rub. Barack Obama is trying to have his cake and eat it too in Iraq. For political reasons, he wants to appear strong to a disenchanted American public that views him as weak, disengaged, and ineffective; a public that is poised to take its anger out on Democratic candidates in November. On the other hand, the president does not want to do what will have to be done if ISIS is going to be destroyed; send in ground troops in overwhelming strength. In fact, he has made it clear he will not do this; thereby also making it clear to the leaders of ISIS that he is unwilling to do what is necessary to eliminate their organization. If Barack Obama had even a scintilla of military knowledge and if he was a real commander-in-chief instead of a perpetual politician, he would keep what he is willing to do to himself, thereby keeping our enemy guessing.
Barack Obama is unwilling to put all of the resources of the United States military behind a concerted effort to crush this terrorist organization with overwhelming strength and power. Instead he apologetically inserts a few military personnel here and there—refusing to admit they have a combat mission—as if they were sent to Iraq to hand out parking tickets. All this minimalist approach is going to do is get the few American military personnel sent to Iraq killed. How would you like to be an American special-ops soldier sent to Iraq knowing that the only thing covering your back is a handful of Iraqi Defense Forces soldiers; the same ones we see surrendering in droves to ISIS on the news every night? Ask a Viet Nam veteran how it was to have the South Vietnamese Army covering his back in that war.
It is times like these when it would be good to have a commander-in-chief who had served in the military prior to becoming president. Barring that, it would be nice to have a commander-in-chief who has at least read a book or two about military operations. Barring that, it would be nice to have a commander-in-chief who was willing to have people on his staff with military experience, people he would listen to. Barring that, it would be nice to have a president who even cared about military matters. With Barack Obama, America has none of these things. Instead we have the reincarnation of Lyndon Johnson—a president interested only in domestic matters who must get engaged in a war he rather ignore and who, as a result, bases his decisions about the war on political rather than military concerns.
If President Obama had ever read a book or two on military operations, here are some things he might have learned that could guide him in making better decisions about how best to destroy ISIS:
- Airpower is important, but it is not enough. In the Pacific campaign in World War II, it was thought that air strikes alone could neutralize the Japanese who were dug in on a series of strategically-important islands. Our Marines learned the hard way that air strikes alone cannot take out a dug-in, determined enemy. Dug-in enemy soldiers are like roaches that hide in the woodwork until the air strikes are over. Then they come out to do their dirty work. If President Obama thinks air strikes alone can defeat an enemy like ISIS, perhaps someone should lend him a book about the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. If he does not want to read up on his subject, perhaps he should talk to a D-Day survivor and ask him how effective our bombing campaign to “soften up” the enemy was in that bloody battle.
- Air power is most effective when used in conjunction with ground troops. Providing close air support to ground troops is the foundational purpose of Marine air power. When troops on the ground work closely with air support, the combination is deadly and can overpower even the most determined enemy. This is why President Obama is sending in a few Americans to coordinate air attacks. The problem with his approach is that he is just hanging a few good men out to dry. Unless you have troops on the ground who have been trained in the use of close-air support—as American troops and Marines are—this approach loses its effect. Plus, American air controllers embedded with Iraqi troops will just become the point of focus for ISIS, just as snipers in all wars focus on officers, radio men, and other critical-billet soldiers. Without American troops backing them, these few embedded air-controllers are nothing but lambs being led to the slaughter. Thanks to President Obama’s fecklessness, we can stand by for more beheadings; this time of American air-controllers.
- Wars are lost when political concerns overshadow military strategy. Barack Obama is a politician, not a leader. Every decision he makes and every action he takes is strained through a political sieve and politics trumps everything else. He knows America is tired of the war in Iraq. He knows Americans don’t want to see ground troops committed to that region again. But it is these types of situations that present presidents with opportunities for greatness. As a leader it is Obama’s responsibility and his challenge to determine what is best for America’s long-term safety and security and do it. It is also his responsibility and challenge to use his influence and persuasive skills to convince the American public to support what needs to be done. A large part of leadership is taking people where they are not yet ready to go. People who sit in the Oval Office can see farther down the road than those of us who make up the voting public. They have access to information you and I don’t have. This being the case, a president has a duty and an obligation to use his broader vision to determine the right thing to do and to convince us to support him in doing it. When George W. Bush wanted to implement a surge in Iraq, few in his administration, few in Congress, and few in the public at large supported him, but he went ahead with the surge anyway because he was convinced it was the right thing to do. That is what a leader does. As it turned out, Bush was right and when he was shown to be right former naysayers—people like Barack Obama—fell all over themselves trying to claim they had supported his decision all along. That’s just how people are. As Americans it is in our DNA to be isolationists, but isolationism is not always the smart or the responsible option. If ISIS is truly the threat to America’s safety and security that President Obama claims it is, then he should be willing to do everything necessary to eliminate the threat. That, in the final analysis, is what he was elected to do.
When Hitler threatened western civilization, the world—led by the United States—joined hands to defeat him. Make no mistake about it, without America’s leadership, commitment, and resources Hitler would not have been defeated. The same can be said about ISIS. Unfortunately, at this critical juncture in world history America has a politician in the White House instead of a leader.